Islamabad: A leading anti-Taliban politician was among nine persons killed oppn Saturday when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a house in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar where leaders of the Awami National Party were holding a meeting.
Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a senior ANP leader and a Senior Minister of the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, succumbed to injuries sustained in the suicide attack, for which the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility.
The bomber struck as Bashir, 69, was leaving the house in the congested Dhaki Nalbandi neighbourhood near Qissa Khwani Bazar this evening.
He was taken to Lady Reading Hospital, where he was declared dead after doctors failed to resuscitate him.
Bilour`s personal secretary Haji Noor Mohammed and police officer Abdus Sattar Khan too were killed, officials said.
Hospital officials said 18 people were injured and several of them were in a serious condition.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan claimed responsibility for the attack during phone calls to journalists.
He said Bilour was targeted as he was among government functionaries who spoke out against the Taliban.
Ihsan warned that the Taliban would target leaders of the ANP, Pakistan People`s Party and Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which are partners in the ruling coalition in the centre.
Bilour was a member of a leading political and business family of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province that has had a long association with the secular ANP.
A lawyer by profession, he was a vocal critic and opponent of the Taliban. He often condemned militants for carrying out bombings and suicide attacks.
Despite being targeted twice by suicide bombers since 2008, Bilour was invariably among the first government officials to arrive at the site of terror attacks to personally supervise operations.
During an interaction with the media yesterday, Bilour
had pledged to continue the campaign against terrorists.
"This is our war and we will have to fight it. We will die and we will kill but we will overcome the terrorists," he said.
Angry ANP workers who gathered at Lady Reading Hospital broke down and wept on learning of his death.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who only son was gunned down by the Taliban, said: "Bilour was in the forefront of opposing terrorism. We need people like him who take on terrorists, we will not surrender and we will continue our campaign."
ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan condemned the attack and said: "This is not a loss only for the ANP but for all liberals and for Pakistan?Those behind this attack shouldn`t think we`ll sit at home. We`ll continue the fight like Bashir Bilour."
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed grief at Bilour`s death.
In a statement, Zardari said Bilour’s sacrifices in the war against against terrorism would not go waste.
"The entire nation is united against terrorism and its resolve will not weaken," he said.
Rescue workers and witnesses said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who was aged between 15 and 20 years.
The ANP leaders had gathered for a meeting in the house in Dhaki Nalbandi, a residential neighbourhood with narrow alleys.
Rescue workers faced problems in entering the congested alleys.
Footage on television showed several shops and cars were damaged by the powerful explosion.
Security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation.
The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan has frequently targeted workers and leaders of the ANP over the past five years.
Scores of ANP workers have died in these attacks.